How Do You Become a School Counselor?

School CounselorBefore you become a school counselor, you should make sure that you understand what these counselors do every day on the job. They work in elementary, junior high and high schools to help students going through troubles at home and at school. You might help students with their college applications, notify the principal when you identify signs of abuse or run programs that teach kids that bullying is wrong. School counselors generally need to meet some specific requirements that include a college degree.

Earn a Degree

The first step associated with becoming a counselor is going to college. Not many schools in the country offer an undergraduate degree program in school psychology, but you will find hundreds of schools that have general psychology programs available. These programs often require that you take classes in social, abnormal, behavioral, clinical and other types of psychology. This teaches you more about how the human mind develops, different factors that impact behavior and methods of treating those with psychological problems. You may also do some type of student teaching experience that lets you observe counselors actually working in local schools.

Go to Graduate School

The only way you can become a school counselor is if you go to graduate school. Graduate school gives you the chance to improve your skills and learn everything you need to know about working with students in a school setting later. Most of these programs require that students complete a minimum of 30 credit hours of classroom work, and some require that you do an internship in the field as well. Graduate school should also have some type of a thesis. You’ll choose a topic such as bullying, college admissions or physical abuse and create a detailed paper or research project on that topic before you graduate.

Attend Training

Even if your grad school does not include any fieldwork, you’ll usually need to train in the field before working as a counselor. Some states will even partner you with an experienced counselor who acts as your mentor. You can pick up tips on working with students, ask questions you might have and get feedback about any projects or plans you implement. This training period can last anywhere from six months to several years. Many states let you work conditionally as a school counselor until you pass an evaluation performed by your mentor later.

Obtain a License

The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the median wage of school counselors at more than $53,000 a year. Before you can become a school counselor and start making that much, you must have either a certificate or a license in your state. The requirements for getting a license or certificate vary in each state. Some states will look at the grades you earned in college, but others place more importance on whether you have any on the job training. You should expect to take a background check as well. Most states forbid those with a criminal record from working in schools.

Related Resource: Instructional Coach

School counselors handle a number of serious problems every day and help students recover from the trauma associated with abuse, bullying and other issues. To become a school counselor in your state, you usually need a bachelor’s degree, a graduate degree, some fieldwork experience and a license or certificate.